Global Ethics Corner: Assisting Political Parties in the Middle East

Friday, April 15, 2011

In the aftermath of popular uprisings in the Middle East, Western aid-donors are confronted by a difficult dilemma. Should donors work with anti-democratic or politically extremist domestic groups?

If donors do, they risk lending legitimacy to unacceptable political movements. But if they disregard these actors, in effect working against them, donors risk influencing the fledgling domestic democratic process.

This dilemma is most pressing for those working with political parties. To do justice to popular will, parties must showcase an array of divergent political options, giving voters a real choice.

As Egypt, Tunisia, and others tenuously embark on democratization, the first tumultuous step is free and fair elections, and in the past few months, many political parties were born. Lacking organizational structures, experienced members, or programs, many parties struggle to perform basic democratic functions.

To help new parties overcome these difficulties, the transatlantic aid community provides finances, material aid, training, and consulting, similar to Eastern Europe in the 1990s. However, they are forced to choose between working with or without some political parties, which may flout democratic principles and values.

In Egypt for example, Mubarak's National Democratic Party or the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood may be excluded. Hence, aid providers set a precedent for partisanship. How can external aid providers know the future range of popular preferences in former authoritarian systems? In any event, is excluding recipients inherently undemocratic?

As aid providers begin assisting new parties in the Middle East, with whom should they work? Is excluding some parties in the name of democracy justified? If so, on what grounds? What do you think?

By Mladen Joksic and Marlene Spoerri

For more information see:

Spoerri, Marlene (2010) "Crossing the line: partisan party assistance in post-Miloševic Serbia," Democratization, 17: 6, 1108 - 1131

Carothers, Thomas (2007) Confronting the Weakest Link: Aiding Political Parties in New Democracies. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Burnell, Peter (2004) Building Better Democracy: Why Parties Matter. London: Westminster Foundation for Democracy.


Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Kodak Agfa
Kodak Afga
Rowan El Shimi
Nasser Nouri
Department for International Development/Kate Joseph
Floris Van Cauwelaert
Nasser Nouri
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